Almacks

Almacks (also Almack’s and Almack) is one of many recipes that have originated from people copying dishes they have enjoyed whilst eating out. Almack’s was a Georgian/Regency London club where the great and the good could socialise during ‘the season’, Pontacks is another such establishment, now equally long gone, whose reputation remains only in the names of recipes they have inspired.

By the end of the 18th century, being presented at the Royal court was deemed old fashioned for the up and coming ladies in society, so Almacks provided a setting whereby  socialising and marriage alliances could be conducted amongst the ‘Ton’. As an example of the importance of Almack’s in the social life of the capital, when Lady Caroline Lamb published ‘Glenarvon’, with a thinly-fictionalised Lord Byron as the main character, Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey, was so incensed at the way she had been satirised, she barred Lady Caroline from Almacks in 1816, thereby making her a social outcast *gasps and clutches pearls*. Although Lady Caroline eventually managed to regain membership three years later, thanks mainly to the assistance of her cousin, Emily Lamb (Countess Cowper), her reputation never recovered.

Almacks provided refreshments to its member and this thick fruit ‘cheese’ would have been ideal as it has great keeping qualities and is easy to serve at short notice. It can be eaten a number of ways: as a sweet, with cream or as a savoury, with biscuits and cheese. It is also versatile in its preparation as it can be varied by type of apple, pear and plum, thus giving it subtle changes in flavour with each batch. It is an ideal way to use up gluts of fruit, or to waste-not-want-not with windfalls.

Almack recipe (1785-1825) from MS1827, Wellcome Collection.

This is the earliest recipe I have found, coming from a household manuscript dated 1785-1825. The quantities are huge, even allowing for a loss of volume during the cooking. A peck of apples is roughly 6 kg, so it calls for a total of 18kg of prepared fruit, although it’s probably going to be closer to 20 kg by the time you factor in weight loss due to peeling/coring/chopping.

Almack recipe, (1800-1822) from MS1830, Wellcome Collection

This is a recipe with slightly more reasonable quantities – 3 quarts of each fruit = 7.5kg, but in the end I thought the recipe from Elizabeth Pease (below) was both the simplest and most reasonable in terms of batch size.

Elizabeth Pease’s recipe for Almacks (1802-1871) in MS3824, Wellcome Collection.

Admittedly, it does take a few things for granted such as expecting readers to know the method and how to prepare the fruit, but I’ll be filling you in on those in the recipe below.

So how much Almacks you make is really up to you and what you have to hand. As a guide, I used 750g of prepared apples and pears and 800g damsons (to allow for the stones) and it made 8 generous portions as seen in the photo above, and about 400g in a box for more casual use. The damsons add a real tang to the paste, and the low quantity of sugar means it sits right on the edge between sweet and savoury. Serve (small) portions with a drizzle of cream and a biscuit (ratafias, macaroons, etc) for crunch as a dessert, or with your favourite cheese and crackers.

Almacks

I’ve reduced the quantities, so you can make a small batch to try, but you can scale it up quite easily if you have it in mind to pot and gift it for Christmas.

500g peeled, cored and chopped apples
500g peeled, cored and chopped pears
500g plums/damsons, stones removed if possible
500g demerera sugar.

  • Cook the fruit. You want it soft enough so that it can be sieved easily. This can be done a couple of ways:
    • layer the fruit and sugar into a large casserole  (preferably ceramic or enamelled) and put it in the oven, uncovered, at 150°C, 130°C Fan for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the fruit floating on top of the juice doesn’t dry out.
    • Put the fruit and sugar into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. This method generates more juice, as it won’t evaporate as much as it does in the oven, but it has the advantage of being able to be left unattended for an extended period of time.
  • Sieve the cooked fruit until nothing is left but skin and (possibly) damson pits.
  • Simmer the puree in a preserving pan until no excess liquid is visible when you draw a spoon across the pan, and it’s just fruit puree. This will take rather a long time, if you used the slow-cooker method, due to the extra juice.
  • You MUST stir the pan, otherwise the puree will burn. Towards the end, it will turn into fruit LAVA< so have a towel cover your arm handy, to avoid the hot splashes.
  • When your puree is ready, spoon it into moulds or hot, sterilised jars as you would for jam. Silicone moulds are great, especially if you’re making Almacks to serve at a special meal – although you don’t need a special occasion to serve some delicious fruit cheese in a pretty shape. The flexibility of the silicone makes it very simple to turn out the paste, once cold.

Incomprehensible Pudding

When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.

Incomprehensible Recipe
Incomprehensible Pudding Recipe, circa 1785, MS2242, Wellcome Collection.

To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.

Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.

It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.

The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.

I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.

I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.

The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

120g unsweetened apple pulp
1 large egg
20g liquid clarified butter
20g caster sugar

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

  • Heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Add the apple and butter and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a shallow dish and bake for 20 minutes until almost set (slightly wobbly in the centre).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  •  (Optional) Sprinkle with caster sugar (or brulée sugar) and brulee with either blowtorch or grill.

Empty Pudding

Sometimes I stumble across a hidden gem of a recipe when I am supposed to be hunting out something else. Thus it is with this recipe that I found in a nondescript Edwardian cook book¹.

There are several things that drew me to this recipe. Firstly, the name, which is curious, and after following the recipe, is also extremely accurate. Secondly, the ingredients list. It is incredibly short. Just three ingredients. Which I find rather exciting – the possibility of creating something out of practically nothing is great fun. Especially since, in this case, the recipe has been costed at 9d, nine old pence, less than a shilling for, what appears to be, pudding for four. More so if it is delicious. Which this is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This recipe so caught my attention, I don’t even remember what recipe I was searching for in the first place, so I was keen to read on and discover the secrets within. Alas, the fourth thing that drew me to this recipe is the confusing way it is written.
EmptyPuddingRecipe
As can seen above, the instructions call for one to:

  • Make pastry
  • Put zest & juice in the pudding basin
  • When basin is lined with pastry, add sugar.
  • Seal a pastry lid on top.

This didn’t seem right at all: juice trapped between the basin and the pastry would steam in the heat of the oven and prevent the pastry from becoming crisp, surely? Why use puff pastry if you didn’t want it crisp? How can you seal the pastry and prevent the steam escaping if the thing making the steam (the lemon juice) isn’t inside? This last instruction was, for me, the key, or rather the ‘permission’ to break my number one rule with old recipes and NOT bake it as written in the first place, and put the zest and juice inside the pastry.

And it worked wonderfully. I baked my puddings in individual-sized metal pudding bowls, to shorten the cooking time.

EmptyPie

And here’s how they turned out. Beautiful, golden pastry and a puffed and crispy lid. Inside, the lemon zest and juice combined with the sugar to make an incredibly zingy lemon syrup, which really packs a punch.

LiquidPie

The heat from the oven creates steam from the lemon juice inside the pudding, which in turn helps fluff the puff pastry into soft, delicate layers. The contrast of flavours and textures is amazing.

But there’s more.

Because not all of my puddings turned out perfectly. Two of them sprung a leak during baking, as can be seen here (arranged upside down).

LeakedEmptyPie

But here’s the thing: it’s not a disaster! The zest and juice still combined with the sugar to make a syrup, which, after the leak, coated the outsides of the pastry and made an amazing lemon caramel. Not all the liquid leaked out, so the insides still benefitted from steam, and puffed out fantastically. The photo at the top shows the insides of one of the ‘leaky’ puddings. These are also brilliant, as the lemon caramel hardens in the best traditions of creme brulee, and gives even more flavourful contrasts with the crisp pastry and soft interior. I might even like this variation more than the original. So if your puddings bake perfectly, or whether they spring a leak, it really is a win:win situation!

An extravagance: I used two blocks of puff pastry for just 4 puddings, because I wanted to use freshly-rolled pastry for the lids and the linings, in order to get the best ‘puff’ during baking. On reflection, this might have been unnecessary, as the basins do such a good job of ensuring the pastry puffs inwards whilst keeping the outsides smooth. Certainly, the lids were spectacular, so I’m going to recommend cutting lids from freshly-rolled pastry, and then re-roll the trimmings for the basin linings, which means you could probably get everything from a single block of puff pastry. I haven’t tested this, so I recommend having the second block of pastry on standby, just in case.

Empty Pudding

Serves 4

2 blocks puff pastry
2 lemons
4tbs caster sugar
butter for greasing
milk and caster sugar for glazing

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously. If your puddings spring a leak, you want to ensure you can still get them out of the bowls.
  • Roll out your pastry and cut 4 lids. Make sure the pastry is a little larger than the diameter of your pudding bowls, to ensure there is enough to make a firm seal.
  • Cut pastry to line your pudding bowls. Make sure the pastry overhangs the bowls a lttle to make a firm seal. Re-roll the trimmings if necessary.
  • Put the zest of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put the juice of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put 1tbs caster sugar into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry lids and attach to the rim of the bowls by pressing down firmly.
  • Chill the bowls in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the pastry to relax and firm up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Place the chilled bowls on a baking sheet and crimp the edges between finger and thumb.
  • Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the baking tray around and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. NB Puff pastry takes a surprisingly long time to be properly cooked, so when in doubt, cook a little longer. You can also return them to the oven for extra browning when turned out. See below.
  • Remove from the oven and turn out as follows.
    • Ease a knife around the edge of the pastry to loosen it from the sides of the bowl.
    • Gently test whether you can lift out an un-leaky pudding.
    • If you suspect your pudding has leaked, turn your pudding out upside down.
    • Depending on your pastry colour, you might want to return your puddings to the oven for some extra colouring. If your pudding has leaked, I would definitely recommend returning them to the oven (still upside down) to harden the lemon syrup/caramel mixture until glossy and brown.
  • Serve with custard, cream or as they come.

¹ A little book of cookery by Dora Luck, 1905, Sands & Compy., London ; Edinburgh.

 

Buttered Oranges

For the past several years I have been making a searchable index of the digitised household books held at The Wellcome Library. In doing so, I’ve read over 300 manuscripts and logged more than 32,000 food and drink recipes and have a ‘To Do list of interesting recipes as long as my arm.

‘Buttering’ was exceedingly popular in times past, and was applied to numerous dishes: crab, chickens, rolls, loaves, turnips, rice, salmon… For the most part, this consists of a healthy slathering of butter over the dish in question. Buttered Oranges, however, stands apart, since it’s not a pairing that seems obvious. So it was that this year, in the midst of a Seville orange flurry of kitchen activity, I grabbed a net of sweet oranges and determined that Buttered Oranges would be promoted to the top of the To Do list with immediate effect.

Buttered Orange recipe
Buttered Orange recipe, circa 1750, MS1357, Wellcome Library Collection

I re-read all of the recipes from the collection that I could find, and they were all pretty similar. I selected this one because of the novel presentation suggestion, which is to serve the buttered oranges in candied orange peels. Completely optional, of course, but it does make for an eye-catching dessert.

Which hopefully makes up for what might possibly be a bit of a let-down, because it turns out that Buttered Oranges is pretty much what we today would call a fruit curd: juice and zest, sweetened and thickened with eggs with a generous, but not excessive, quantity of butter melted in.

After experimentation, I found the best way to present this dessert was to make each element separately and then assemble before serving. I felt the original recipe’s instruction to bake the filled oranges until set was a little too risky and prone to mishap to risk all the preparation, but don’t let that deter you from trying it for yourself – I would just advise against a spur of the moment decision during an important social occasion.

Preparing the peels

I chose blood oranges to serve the curd in, as they were a beautiful colour and relatively small, thus being perfect for serving elegant portions of this rich dessert.

1 orange per person
1kg caster sugar
1 litre water

Before you start, you should make a decision on how you will be preparing the peels. The original recipe says to zest the oranges, slice off the top, hollow out the flesh, then simmer in water until tender, then finish in syrup. This gives the skins a pale, almost pastel colouring, which is delightful, and means the whole of the orange is put to good use but also makes them rather fragile during the cooking. One solution would be to tie them lightly in muslin or cheesecloth, to protect them, or alternately, use un-zested oranges, which will have a darker colour, but are also much more robust and less likely to split during the cooking. The results of both are illustrated in the photograph at the top, the zested peels on the right, the un-zested on the left. If you choose to use un-zested oranges, then you will need twice as many oranges overall.

  • If you’re zesting the oranges, do that now and reserve the zest for later.
  • Slice a lid off the top of each orange, and scoop out the insides using a combination of sharp knife and teaspoon. Reserve the flesh and juice for later.
  • Make sure there’s no orange flesh or fibres left inside.
  • Place the hollowed oranges and their lids into a saucepan of cold water, making sure the water fills the cavities.
  • Slowly bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until tender. This will take about 1.5-2 hours.
  • Change the water and scrub the pan every 30 minutes to remove the bitter oil.
  • When the peels are tender enough to be pierced by a toothpick, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over a low heat.
  • Add the peels and allow to simmer gently until the peel appears translucent.
  • Remove from the heat. The peels can remain in the syrup until required.

Buttered Oranges

As already mentioned, this is a variation of Orange Curd, so if you already have a favourite recipe, then by all means use that instead.

2 large eggs
the zest and juice from at least 4 oranges
the juice of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
50g unsalted butter

  • Add the strained juices and zest to the eggs and whisk thoroughly.
  • Add the butter and whisk over a gentle heat until thickened.
  • Add sugar to taste.
  • To serve, you can either pour the curd into your oranges warm, or fill them and allow them to cool before serving.
  • I recommend serving some kind of biscuit or shortbread alongside to dip!

Banyon Toat Pie

This recipe is bonkers: bonkers name, bonkers method. I’ve spent ages trying to work out what, in the 18th century world of erratic spelling, the name is supposed to be, and drawn a blank. I’ve pondered many an hour over the pancake-ception involved in the filling, and been baffled. It’s a true one-off. I’ve never read anything like it – and I’ve read a LOT of recipes. Finally, ealier this month, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and just make it, and see how things go. The result, after a little tweaking, is insanely delicious, so I thought I would share in time for Pancake Day (February 16th), so you can enjoy the deliciousness yourself.

Banyon Toat Pye
Banyon Toat Pye (1700-1735), MS1797, Wellcome Collection

Aside from the already-mentioned bonkers title, the method of this pie is very unusual: make some pancakes, mash them up, mix in yolks, cream and sherry, fry this mixture as thin pancakes, then layer them in puff pastry with candied peel, dried fruit, sugar and butter. When baked, pour a sherry/lemon custard (caudle) through the holes in the lid.

The adding-the-sauce-after-baking was an acceptable approach for pies at this time. Usually the pastry served mostly as a container for the contents and to keep in steam and moisture, and an interesting sauce was added at the end.

It was the pancakes-made-from-pancakes that really intrigued. And so I set to with a vengeance, and initially, it all went swimmingly. Unfortunately, the second batch of batter proved a giant stumbling block. The recipe called for it to be made into thin pancakes, but even using single cream, it was more like bread sauce. Trying to dilute the batter with more cream meant it just wouldn’t hold together. Batch after batch was scrapped, which meant I then had to re-make the first batch and pancakes before working on the second. I must confess, I got a little tetchy, telling myself: it’s a pancake batter! How can I mess up a pancake!?

Eventually, I came up with a compromise, and made just a single, standard pancake batter, but with the flavourings and enrichment that had been used in the second batch. This did indeed make wonderfully thin pancakes, which were delicious in their own right.

Once this hurdle had been successfully leapt, the rest of the recipe was almost straightforward. The pancakes are layered in a puff pastry case, with each layer being sprinkled with sugar, spices, dots of butter, candied peel and dried fruit. A cut-pastry top, 40 minutes in the oven and the addition of the caudle sauce finished it off quite easily, and I must admit, being rather impatient to taste the result.

Well, gentle reader, you’ll be pleased to discover that it is bonkers. DELICIOUSLY bonkers! The pancake layers keep the filling evenly spread, but are light and delicately flavoured with no hint of ‘stodge’. The spiced filling mixture is reminiscent of mince pies, and rich-tasting and thanks to the sharpness of the sour cherries/barberries neither heavy nor cloying. The sauce/caudle really brings the zing, with the sherry and lemon-juice adding freshness and richness. I commented on Twitter after the first trial that it was ridiculously delicious, and I stand by that claim. I literally had to hold my daughter at bay until I had photographed the smaller pies, as she is so taken with them!

Now that I have sorted out the pancake problem, it’s a very straight-forward recipe: much more an assembly rather than anything complicated. If you’re short of time, you could even opt to buy the pancakes rather than make them, although that would mean on missing out on their delicate flavour.

Slices of hot Banyon Toat Pie

There are no quantities given in the original recipe for the filling, so you can be as generous or as careful as you like. The quantities below make for a flavourful, rich pie without overdoing it, but for special occasions, you could really layer them thickly.

Banyon Toat Pie

This can make whatever size and shape of pie(s) you like. One large (20cm) pie will serve 8 generously. Due to the richness, a smaller, 10cm pie can be shared between two. The instructions and quantities below are for one large pie, but, as mentioned above, can be scaled up or down easily.

For the pancakes
50g plain flour
1 large egg
1 large yolk
100ml milk
50ml cream sherry

butter for frying

1 x 500g block of puff pastry

Filling
40g candied citron peel, diced small
40g candied orange peel, diced small
40g candied lemon peel, diced small
40g dried sour cherries or barberries
40g butter
4tbs caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg

Caudle
2 large egg yolks
juice 1 lemon, strained
50ml cream sherry
15g butter
2tbs caster sugar
2tsp cream sherry to finish

Egg white and caster sugar for glazing

  • Whisk together the pancake ingredients and make four thin pancakes. Use a 1/4 cup measure to ensure the batter equally. Lay the cooked pancakes on kitchen paper and leave to cool.
  • Grease your pie tin(s) and line with thinly (5mm) rolled puff pastry. Leave a generous edge overlapping the sides of the tins, to help secure the lid. Cut a lid a little larger than your pie. Chill the lid in the fridge.
  • Pile the pancakes on top of one another, and place your  lined pie tin on top. Cut around the base of the tin, to make four pie-sized pancakes. Eat the pancake offcuts and enjoy!
  • Layer the pie contents as follows. For each layer:
    • Place a pancake.
    • Sprinkle 1tbs caster sugar.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground cinnamon.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground nutmeg.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied citron peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied lemon peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied orange peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g sour cherries or barberries.
    • Cut 10g butter into tiny pieces and dot over.
    • Repeat for all 4 layers.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the pastry lid from the fridge.
  • Cut holes in the lid. You can do this by using a lattice wheel, or by cutting a lattice by hand. Alternatively, use small pastry cutters or even the wide end of a piping nozzle, to cut random holes in the pastry.
  • Moisten the pie edge with water and carefully lay the lid over the filling. Press the edges together firmly, to seal, and then trim the excess with a sharp edge (I use my metal bench scraper).
  • Whisk an egg-white to froth and brush it over the pastry lid. Sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is crisped and brown. Turn the pie around midway through cooking, to ensure even colouring. When fully baked, it will be easy to lift the edge of the pie and check that the base is also browned. If you’re making mini pies in 10cm tins, cooking time is 25 minutes, turning the tray around after 15 minutes.
  • While the pie is baking, make the caudle, You can do this after the pie has been turned, so that it is ready to go when the pie is fully baked.
  • Whisk the ingredients (except the final 2tsp sherry) in a pan over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. It should be of the consistency of single cream. If you think it looks too thin, whisk in an extra yolk. Taste, and add more sugar if needed. When ready to add to the pie, add the remaining sherry.
  • Remove the pie from the tin to a wire cooling rack. Spoon/pour the caudle into the pie through the holes in the pastry lid. Gently shake the pie to help distribute the caudle.
  • Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before enjoying.
  • Best served warm. Delicious by itself, if you wanted to ‘gild the lily’, you could serve it alongside some unsweetened whipped cream.

 

Oatmeal Pancakes

 

This recipe comes from the manuscript of Jane Newton dated circa 1675-1700. I like Jane’s manuscript a lot – she has ruled out the pages with red margins, still bright after more than 300 years, and stamps her character on them with occasional personal comments that are a pleasure to find. The one that always sticks in my mind is her snappily titled “To Make the Puffs I was Speaking of Before in my Pottage”.

Oatmeal Pancake Recipe
Oatmeal Pancake Recipe from Jane Newton’s manuscript, 1675-c1700, MS1325, Wellcome Collection

I chose this recipe this week because tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday and someone out there might fancy something different to the regular lemon & sugar pancakes. (Ratafia Pancakes are another option). Also, Jane’s comment at the bottom of this recipe: “They are the best pancakes that is made if you make them as directed” – quite the gauntlet you’re throwing down there, Jane! I’d have initially made it as written anyways, but now I’m feeling Jane’s beady eye on me. No pressure.

Long story short – she’s right. They might look fairly ordinary, but they are the first pancakes that I’ve tasted that I could eat with no further adornment. Yes, I know the picture shows them dusted with sugar – I added it for photographic purposes only. The batter is sweetened and spiced, and, as all good recipes using oatmeal, lightly salted which kicks in at the end of each mouthful as a delightful contrast.

Oatmeal Pancakes

60g medium oatmeal flour
150ml single cream
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1tbs plain flour
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2tbs caster sugar
30g unsalted butter – melted

  • Mix all the ingredients, except the butter, thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
  • Stir through the melted butter until combined.
  • Melt some butter in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add spoonfulls of the batter into the pan, you can cook 3 at a time.
  • Turn the pancakes when the undersides have browned.
  • Remove cooked pancakes to a sheet of kitchen roll.
  • Enjoy warm as is (it really is the best way) or with your favourite toppings.

 

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

A new variety of rice arrived in Carolina in the 17th century that was to become incredibly popular for almost 200 years. However, it’s popularity dwindled in the 19th century, first with the abolition of slavery and secondly when the waterlogged lands of the Carolinas proved unsuitable for the heavy harvesting machines developed as part of the mechanisation of farming. The grain all but disappeared, but Carolina Gold has now seen a resurgence thanks mainly to the work of one man, Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills. You can read about him here.

This recipe caught my eye as I was transcribing some newly (to me) digitised manuscripts at the Wellcome Library. Although MS1810 is inscribed and dated on the inside cover with “J. Hodgkin. Oct. 2. 1913”, the recipes within have been dated to the middle of the eighteenth century.

Carolina Rice Pudding, MS1810, Wellcome Collection.

As a child, I was a huge fan of the classic rice pudding, with my favourite bit being the darkly caramelised skin that would form on the top. The cottage that we lived in for a while had a Rayburn – a smaller, low-budget version of an Aga. Since it was on all the time, it was no bother to throw some rice, sugar, milk and butter in a dish and pop it in the low-heat oven and let it do it’s own thing. Nowadays, preheating and using the oven for over an hour for a pudding is a little more effort and also more expensive. Consequently, alternative methods have been developed in order for us to continue to enjoy this classic and simple dish. Slow cookers are very useful, as are the various stove-top methods. For this recipe, I opted to steam the rice in individual-sized pudding dishes. I’ve managed to acquire some fancy-shaped ones, thanks to ebay, but you can also use classic, smooth-sided pudding bowls.

As much as I love traditional rice pudding, it is very carbohydrate-heavy, and it’s a short hop and a skip from that warm, fuzzy, comfort feeling to carb-coma. This recipe unwittingly addresses that – deliciously. The inclusion of apple and spices makes for a creamy cross between apple pie and rice pudding. By using Bramley apples, the pudding becomes positively light, as the cooked apples disappear into a froth of freshness. Dessert/eating apples can also be used, but the relatively short cooking time means they don’t break down as completely as the Bramleys do. But that might be just the bite you’re looking for, so have at it. Alternately, make a large pudding and steam/boil for an hour.

When eaten hot, they need no further adornment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘gild the lily’ as it were. Fresh double cream, as in the photo, is simple, delicious, and being cold, is a fabulous contrast against the heat of the rice and apples. Caramel sauce, home-made or spooned out of a tin of caramel condensed milk, steers them towards toffee apple territory. A drizzle of more evaporated milk can add creaminess without the calories of cream.

Spiced Apple Rice Pudding

The recipe predates pasturisation, so would originally have been made with raw milk, much richer than our modern-day whole milk. I’ve tweaked the original and replaced (approximately) half the milk with evaporated milk.  Next variation I plan on trying is all condensed milk and dark brown sugar, for a real caramel-y treat.

If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar. Taste the rice mixture before filling your moulds and decide.

Makes 4 individual puddings.

60g short-grain, pudding rice
1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk
130ml whole milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g soft, light-brown sugar
1 x 250g Bramley apple
zest of ½ a lemon
2 large yolks

4 individual pudding moulds
butter for greasing
foil to cover
steamer saucepan

  • Put the milks and the rice into a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the rice is mostly cooked and the mixture has thickened (15 minutes or so).
  • Remove from the heat and stir through the spices and the sugar.
  • Peel, core and chop the apple finely. I find a food processor is best for this, as a couple of pulses can reduce it to fine pieces without pureeing them.
  • Add the chopped apple, and lemon zest to the rice mixture and stir well. This will have cooled the rice a little, so you can now also beat in the yolks.
  • Butter your pudding moulds well. Be thorough, as this is key in getting your puddings to turn out once cooked.
  • Fill your pudding moulds with the rice and apple mixture.
  • Tear off some foil and divide it into four. Make a fold in piece of foil and then cover your puddings, scrunching the foil round the sides to form a seal. The fold will allow for the rice expanding, whilst preventing any water getting in.
  • Arrange the covered puddings in your steamer pan and cover with the saucepan lid.
  • Bring some water to a boil and put your steamer pan on for 30 minutes. Make sure your water doesn’t boil away. A brisk simmer is all that is needed, not a raging, rolling boil.
  • When your puddings are cooked, remove from the pan and peel off the foil. Gently ease the edges of your puddings away from the sides of the mould, then turn them out onto your serving dish.
  • Enjoy warm or cold, with sauce if liked.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

This is a recipe from that classic of home cooking, Farmhouse Fare. I have copies ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1960s, and I always find it interesting to see which recipes come and go through the decades as they are replaced with more fashionable dishes, or as tastes change, as well as recipes which persist over time. This recipe comes from the second impression of the third edition, published in 1947.

It recipe is in the style of the delightfully named pudding cakes, which are so deliciously comforting hot from the oven with custard or cream, that can also be enjoyed cold as a cake. I must confess, though, this really does taste better warm, so have been briefly zapping leftover slices in the microwave to bring it back to a cosy and comforting temperature.

Pairing sharp, zingy  rhubarb with the warmth of treacle and ginger is just the tonic for this time of year, when there has possibly been a little over-indulgence, and a jaded palate needs reviving with something bright and fresh.

The rhubarb in the shops is currently of the beautiful, coral-pink forced variety and sandwiching it within gently-spiced sponge provides richness and freshness with every bite.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

150-250ml milk
60g butter
85g treacle
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg – whisked
225g self-raising flour, or plain flour + 2tsp baking powder
200g rhubarb, chopped into 2cm slices
50g soft brown sugar

  • Grease and line a dish with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper. I used a rectangular tin of dimensions 15cm by 25cm. You could also use a 20cm square tin, or indeed a round cake tin.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Put 150ml milk, butter, treacle and spices into a pan and warm through until the butter has melted.
  • Remove from the heat and sift in the flour, then whisk in the beaten egg.
  • Add more milk, if required, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency – that is, it will drop freely from a spoon (as opposed to thud in a lump).
  • Spread half of the mixture into your prepared tin and then lay over the rhubarb. I like to gently poke the slices into the mixture standing on end, but you could also just scatter them freestyle.
  • Sprinkle over the sugar, then top with the remaining mixture.
  • Smooth over and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the middle is springy to the touch. If you like to test for doneness with a toothpick, be sure you don’t mistake cooked rhubarb for uncooked cake mixture and overbake.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then serve for pudding either as is, which is delicious, or with custard, cream or ice-cream.

 

Sultan Cream Tart

This tart is a pleasant change from round or rectangular tarts and has the added advantage of being able to be made in any size required, from small, serving just one person to large, serving eight. Of course, if you’re feeling peckish, then one person could probably eat a large one, but I’m going to pretend I never said that – I’d hate to put ideas in your head.

This tart is also infinitely customisable. The original recipe (Harris & Borella, All About Pastries, c1900) filled the segments with delicately coloured and flavoured whipped cream, which makes for a wonderfully light and airy treat. For the photo above, I chose an 18thC recipe for a dairy-free whip. Similarly, fresh summer berries or indulgent fruit conserves are both equally appropriate.

Sultan Cream Tart

This enriched shortcrust pastry is halfway between pastry and shortbread: very crisp and friable and a great contrast with the buttery, puff pastry.

Sweet shortcrust
170g plain flour
60g cornflour
125g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
1 large yolk
ice water to mix

  • Put the flours, yolk, sugar and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then roll out to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Transfer to a board, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To assemble the tart
1 sheet of ready rolled puff pastry
1 large yolk whisked with 1tbs water for glazing

  • Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and cut out into circles of the desired size, 15-25cm in diameter.
  • Prick all over with a fork, to prevent blistering, and brush the surface with water.
  • Docked Pastry
  • Unroll the puff pastry. Each tart will require 5 strips of 1cm width, and 2 strips of 2cm width.
  • Place the 1cm strips of puff pastry as follows, laying two strips down the middle with a small gap in-between, as shown.
  • Lay the two, 2cm strips around the edge to form a rim. Have the ends start/finish at the top/bottom of the pastry as shown.
  • Trim the pastry ends neatly.
  • Return the pastries to the fridge and chill until firm. When thoroughly chilled, transfer each tart to a separate piece of parchment paper. using a sharp knife, cut down between the two vertical strips of pastry, and draw each half apart.
  • Heat the oven to 205°C/185°C Fan. Brush all the puff pastry edges with egg glaze and bake them until puffed and golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Finishing

These pastries can be made and finished with the glaze/nuts the day before they are required, and kept – carefully – in an airtight container until needed. Fill just before serving.

chopped pistachios
toasted, flaked almonds
75g apricot jam – warmed with 2tbs water

fillings of choice

  • Warm the jam with the water and whisk until smooth. Brush the semicircular rim with glaze and smother with toasted almonds.
  • Brush the glaze over the three dividing bars and smother with chopped pistachio nuts.
  • Fill as desired and serve at once.

 

 

Ratafia Pancakes

Pancakes have been the traditional pre-Lenten meal for centuries. Pancake Day is preceded by Collop Monday, when the last  of the bacon and ham was fried up for the evening meal, usually with some eggs. The fat in the pan was then retained for frying the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

There are almost as many pancake tradition as there are households. In my childhood, we had sugar and lemon juice on our rolled pancakes, which I just assumed was the one and only way to serve them. Only when I went away to college did I learn about jam, syrup, honey, treacle also being options, puffy American pancakes with syrup AND bacon, and in more recent years Scandinavian æbleskivers and Dutch poffertjes.

Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection
Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection

This recipe comes from a Georgian manuscript recipe book, and is a charming twist on regular thin pancakes. Filled with a spiced custard and glazed with egg-white and sugar, they are then baked in the oven until crisp. There’s no ratafia flavouring in them, so I’m assuming that the name comes from the crunch of the caramelised sugar and the crisped pancake edges. The combination of warm, spiced custard, crisp pancake and crunchy sugar glaze is delicious. For an adult flavour, you can add a tablespoon of something alcoholic to the custard – cream sherry is probably the closest to the sack that was much in vogue at the time, Madeira, Marsala or Mead are also good choices.

You can use your favourite recipe, or the one below, and if short of time, use ready-made custard, or indeed ready-bought pancakes for that matter. The quantities given below are very modest, enough for four pancakes and filling. Increase the quantities to suit the number of diners you’re serving.

Ratafia Pancakes

For the pancakes
115ml milk
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g plain flour

Butter for frying

For the custard
250ml milk
2 large yolks
30g cornflour
50g caster sugar
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground mace
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
1tbs cream sherry/Marsala/Madeira/Mead (optional)

For the glaze
1 large egg white
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Whisk together the ingredients for the pancake batter.
  • Melt a little butter in a pan and fry ¼ of the batter at a time to make four, thin pancakes. Don’t worry if they’re uneven – the folding/rolling will neaten everything.
  • Set each cooked pancake aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the yolks, sugar, spices and cornflour.
  • Heat the milk in a pan and when almost boiling, pour over the egg mixture, whisking briskly.
  • Return the mixture to the pan and stir over medium heat until thickened.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool. Stir in the alcohol, if using.
  • Cover the surface of the custard with plastic film and chill until cold.

To finish

  • Take ¼ of the custard and lay it in a log shape along the bottom edge of a pancake.
  • Fold the left and right sides of the pancake inwards (to contain the custard) and then roll up the pancake, keeping the custard filling well wrapped.
  •  Lay the rolled pancake on a parchment-lined baking sheet, with the free edge of the pancake underneath to keep it from unrolling.
  • Repeat with the remaining pancakes and filling.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg-white until frothy and brush generously over the rolled pancakes.
  • Sprinkle the caster sugar over the rolled pancakes.
  • Bake the pancakes for 15 minutes to caramelise the sugar and crisp the pancakes. Add an extra 5 minutes more, depending on how brown/crispy your tastes are.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving – the custard inside will be very hot.